Kernstown Battlefield, Winchester, Virginia

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By John Cowgill

You may not have learned about the Battle of Kernstown in history class. The reality is that very few people, including those who live around the city of Winchester, Virginia, have ever heard of the Battle of Kernstown.  This battle is often overshadowed by the better-known Civil War battles of Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg.

Very few people have heard of this battle, and very few people even know that this battlefield even exists.  Winchester was a crossroads town with many major routes passing through, including the Valley Turnpike.  (This is modern day U.S. Route 11.)

The battlefield looks like a peaceful field, just like most of the other battlefield. But this peaceful field was the site of two battles during the Civil War.  Before it was a battlefield, it was a farm owned by the Pritchard family.  The first battle took place in March of 1862.  The Confederate Army was led by Thomas Jackson.  This is the same Thomas Jackson who earned the name ‘Stonewall’ after his great stand during the First Battle of Manassas.  However, the First Battle of Kernstown was his only tactical defeat as an independent commander during the war, but it was a strategic victory.  Since President Lincoln was afraid that Thomas Jackson would attack Washington, General McClellan retreated from an attack on Richmond to Washington to protect the city.  In a way, Thomas Jackson’s defeat at Kernstown helped save Richmond.  The Second Battle of Kernstown was won by the Confederate Army, and it was the last significant Confederate victory in the Shenandoah Valley.

Kernstown Battlefield

Pritchard Farmhouse at Kernstown Battlefield

A visit to the Kernstown Battlefield includes a visit to the Visitor Center, which houses a museum that tells the story of the battle.  You can also get a tour of the battlefield and the tour of the Pritchard Farmhouse.  A guided tour is suggested, as there are many stories to tell about these battles.  But a self-guided tour of the battlefield with interpretation signs describes what happened at each location.

The Kernstown Battlefield is owned and operated by the Kernstown Battlefield Association, which is completely staffed by volunteers.  (There is no paid staff.)  It is located at 610 Battle Park Drive just off U.S. Route 11 south of Winchester just minutes from Interstate 81.  It is open on Saturdays and Sundays from April to October from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Admission is free, but they will gladly accept donations.  Memberships are also available to help support the battlefield association.  Please note that the Pritchard Farmhouse is not wheelchair acceptable, and the walking trails are not paved.  You can get more information about the battlefield, how to become a member, and to learn of upcoming events at kernstownbattle.org.

Kernstown Battlefield

Cannons inside the museum at Kernstown Battlefield

 

John Cowgill (johnbcowgill1@gmail.com) loves to visit historic places and parks to include lesser known sites.  He loves traveling, taking road trips, taking photographs, and he loves railroads.  You can also follow him on Facebook at ‘John Cowgill: Photographic Journeys’ and ‘John Cowgill: DC Railroad Examiner’.  You can also check out his railroad articles on ‘John Cowgill: Stories of the Railroad’ at johncowgillstoriesoftherailroad.com.

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